Matthew Harding, director, Indigo Energy networks, Generation, Low-carbon generation, Policy & regulation, Opinion

Renewable energy projects within the Green Belt would be better for society, the environment and the economy, says Matthew Harding.

To many, the government’s policies on renewable energy are both confused and confusing. The same might be said about its approach to the Green Belt.

Unfortunately, when the two collide you begin to wonder whether there is any actual joined-up thinking within the government.

Look at the confusion that surrounds the creation of renewable energy projects within the Green Belt.

On the one hand, Green Belt national planning policy says renewable energy projects may be inappropriate and are only permissible in “very special circumstances”.

On the other hand, the same national policy framework recognises that even small-scale renewable and low-carbon projects can make a valuable contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, therefore promoters should not be required to demonstrate the overall need for such schemes.

What is clear from this typical confused bureaucracy is that it has become a minefield and only those with specialist knowledge and experience can steer a planning application through to a successful conclusion.

Schemes promoting solar and wind power installations can bring tremendous benefits to the countryside without any long-term damage to the rural quality of life.

Importantly, renewable energy projects do not create urban sprawl – one of the key purposes of the Green Belt. In fact, solar and wind farms would restrict urban sprawl because they provide land use that is unlikely to be replaced by permanent urban development.

At the same time, many renewable energy developments are rural in character as their built coverage is relatively small and fields can be retained in and around, and under, the infrastructure. Rather than being a “blot on the landscape”, many renewable energy projects can be low-rise and shielded from public view.

Enabling appropriate scale renewable energy projects within the Green Belt will help councils and developers focus more on urban regeneration that utilises brownfield sites rather than the neighbouring countryside.

Government policy and local planners should create an environment that makes renewable energy projects both viable and desirable in and around as many communities as possible; it is not beyond the realms of possibility that this could make many of them self-sufficient.

Despite government rhetoric, the Green Belt is not sacrosanct and renewable energy infrastructure can sit comfortably within its defined purposes. Making the Green Belt greener is better for society, the environment and the economy.


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